Archive for November, 2007

Veteran’s Day

November 11, 2007

Today is Veteran’s Day. The British, Australian, and New Zealander troops here have been wearing red poppies in their buttonholes since the first of the month – for them it is Remembrance Day.

By coincidence, today is also one day short of the first anniversary of Zeal and Activity. I’ll repeat what I said in that first post: Thank you, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

If you know any veterans, in your workplace or your family, stop for a minute, shake their hands, and wish them happy Veteran’s Day.

[Published Dec. 10]


United States Marine Corps Birthday

November 10, 2007

November 10 was the 232nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Every November 10, Marines around the world gather to celebrate. In American embassies, the Marine Security Guard detachment customarily observes the event by hosting a ball for the Embassy staff. These are often elaborate black-tie affairs; ours was simpler but no less moving. I’m very sorry to say, I did not bring a camera.

The ceremony was in one of the ballrooms of the Palace. Standing room only. After a video address by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway, which reviewed the Corps’ establishment in 1775 by the Continental Congress and its formative battles, Amb. Ryan C. Crocker spoke, then Gen. Mastin M. Robeson.

Gen. Robeson called for a show of hands: how many present bear the title of Marine? Almost half. The oldest and youngest Marines present, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Welles D. Bacon (70) and Private First Class Richard L. Freeman III (20), cut the cake with a ceremonial sword. It was a huge sheet cake with bright red frosting and yellow trim. Four young Marines wheeled it to the front of the room as the Marines’ Hymn played. Retired Marines could be observed at attention, knuckles to their trouser seams, eyes front.

Amb. Crocker remarked on the long relationship between the U.S. Foreign Service and Marine Corps – not just the present arrangement of Marine Security Guards but the first U.S. land engagement on foreign soil: the assault on Derna in 1805, led by William Eaton, consul to the Barbary states. A detachment of seven Marines under the command of Lt. Presley O’Bannon formed the core of Eaton’s irregular forces. The battle helped end the First Barbary War, though Eaton was disappointed with the negotiated peace. It has a line in the Marines’ Hymn.

* * *

The Battle of Derna is the subject of the recent book The Pirate Coast. It also figures in a novel, Lydia Bailey, by Kenneth Roberts (a partisan of Eaton). Like Amb. Crocker, who noted how Eaton bombarded Washington with letters, I think we can learn from the First Barbary War today. About a year ago, I quoted Roberts on the subject, in part:

…Hamet [Karamanli] wasn’t an American: he was a friend in a far land who trusted America, believed in America, was promised help by America; and any failure to provide that help should have been rightly resented as a stain upon America’s honor.

[Published Dec. 10]

Meeting Resistance

November 9, 2007

A few weeks ago, the Embassy was treated to a preview showing of the documentary film Meeting Resistance, by Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. They are veteran photojournalists of numerous conflicts. Connors was a soldier in Northern Ireland. This is their first film. Here is IMDB.

Meeting Resistance introduces the viewer to eight or so insurgent fighters from one Baghdad neighborhood. They appear in silhouette, out of focus, or outside the frame. The rest of the footage is B-roll shot around the neighborhood plus a little news footage. Aside from occasional title cards, there is no narration.

The screening was arranged by our Red Team. I would guess that between 200 and 300 people attended. I stood in the back.


In Country

November 6, 2007

I am here.

As careful readers of Zeal and Activity know, for several months I’ve been pursuing a career change. Over the summer, I finished up some obligations at home and accepted a contract position at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. I’ve been here for a couple of weeks now.

My reasons for coming are a subject for a different post. In part, in the changed strategy of the surge and the positive momentum reflected in on-the-ground reporting from Michael Yon, Badger 6, Greyhawk, and others, I saw the potential for a tipping point. God willing, I will help push while I am here.

It’s strange to be at the physical center of so much controversy. The International Zone is prosaic and peaceful. Starlings chirp in the trees. The sky is hazy; we are getting clouds more often. Daylight savings was a few weeks ago; dusk sets while we are at our desks, though the weather is still shirtsleeves. In Washington and New York, gauntlets are thrown and daggers drawn over circumstances here.

At once every chattering voice was stilled, every mouth closed, people seemed to hold their breath as with one movement every head in the audience turned toward a small door in the wall on the right. Every gaze fastened upon it with a kind of shrinking awe as if fearful to look upon a ghost. For the accused was a ghost, whom no one in the room had laid eyes on for almost five years, whom no one there beyond his family, lawyers and original accusers had ever seen at all. For five years he had been present in their minds, not as a man but as an idea; now he was going to walk through the door and they would look upon Lazarus. … A movement of “horror and pity” passed through the watchers, and the look bent on him by Picquart whose life he had changed beyond repair was so intense it could be felt by the people in between. … He knew nothing of the Affair, the battle of the press, the duels and petitions, riots, street mobs, Leagues, trials, libel suits, appeals, coups d’etat; nothing of Scheurer-Kestner, Reinach, the arrest of Picquart, the trial of Zola, the court-martial of Esterhazy, the suicide of Colonel Henry, the attack on the person of the President of France.